In the Bolivar District, on the country’s Caribbean coast, awaits one of Colombia’s most popular destinations; a city veiled in colonial walls, canyons, fortresses, and an almost-magical timeless history. Cartagena, once home to the Caribe Indians, was founded in 1533 as “Cartagena de Poniente” to distinguish it from “Cartagena de Levante” in Spain. Later the city became known as “Cartagena de Indias” – today just “Cartagena.”
Cartagena’s biggest draw is its Old City, a place that is at once both romantic and full of exhilarating legend, nestled within the confines of the largest fortress in the Americas. Generously funded by the Spanish, the walls (Las Murallas) were erected for protection by foreign buccaneers and pirates who perpetually pillaged the city and targeted the Spaniard’s treasure. A fascinating maze of colonial, Republican and Italian architectural treasures, where colossal churches overshadow plazas, monasteries, and palaces, and mansions flout their trademark overhanging balconies seized by bougainvillea, a stroll along the Old City’s cobbled streets reveals why it received its World Heritage Site title.
The Old City is separated into an outer and inner section, which comprise 4 distinct districts. The inner walled city is home to the historical districts El Centro, the heart of Cartagena, which includes the Palace of the Inquisition, the Catedral Basílica Metropolitana de Santa Catalina de Alejandría, and the masterpiece San Felipe de Barajas Castle; and San Diego, the classiest and most sophisticated part of Cartagena where you will find the Convent of the Nuns of the Order of Saint Claire – today the enchanting Hotel Santa Clara, and Las Bovedas (The Vaults) of the Santa Catalina Bastion, which affords a beautiful view of the Caribbean. Once the neighborhood of the city’s African slaves, the Getsemaní zone comprises the outer walled city. Though a less glamorous comparison to the inner city, you will find hotels, popular nightlife clubs and restaurants, as well as many surviving colonial buildings, and the prominent Parque Centenario (Centennary Park) commemorating a century of independence. Getsemaní connects to the modern sector of La Matuna, the commercial and financial area of the city.
Aside from the centre of the city is Bocagrande neighborhood – Cartagena’s most modern sector (said to be Cartagena’s Miami Beach), which comprises nightclubs, beach resorts, trendy cafés and upscale condos, and a notable nightlife among more. Bocagrande is connected to the barrios of El Laguito and Castillo Grande, which also comprise part of today’s modern city.
And just a 45-minute or so boat ride away, you’ll find the outstanding beaches of the Islas del Rosario, Barú and Playa Blanca.